Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Socio-Political Economic Rant

Before you read this, please understand: while my post may seem unrelated to associations, from the outset, it is definitely related to associations and their ability to change the world..

I find it simultaneously interesting and deeply depressing to hear both Democrats and Republicans try to blame one another for the rising prices of energy. What's even more depressing is the parties' lack of leadership in addressing the fundamental problems that have led to our current dilemma. Even worse, neither party has the backbone to acknowledge the realities of what must ultimately be done if we are ever to find a way out of this wilderness of energy dependence.

Let's go back in time just a little. When I was in high school and college, in the early 1970s, students were exposed to stark realities, realities that were presented to us as warnings and directives:

  • oil won't last forever;
  • conservation is both wise and required;
  • alternative sources for fuels [and products that are oil-dependent (e.g., plastics)] must be sought after and perfected; and
  • failure to curb humankind's materialism-gone-awry is the recipe for disaster.

Neither our politicians nor, from the looks of our society today, the rest of us "got" the message. Had we been as intelligent as we wanted to believe we were, we would have directed our energies not toward delaying the inevitable, but toward harnessing the possible...creating a new future with new sources of energy, replacements for oil-based products, and a social consciousness that did not worship at the altar of economic superiority and materialistic gain. We would have insisted on very high gas mileage standards years ago; we would have demanded a Manhattan-style project, with renewal sources of energy as its raison d'ĂȘtre; we would have changed our own lifestyles; and we would have begun teaching our children what we had learned.

But we did not do what was intelligent. Instead, we ignored the gas lines of the early 1970s and paid no heed to the warnings that our lifestyles of excessive consumption and environmental disdain would come back to haunt us.

The chickens inhabiting the lavish coops we built with our own arrogance have now come home to roost.

And what do our politicians say? The Republicans' new mantra on energy, is "Find more. Use Less." When I read such nonsense, I simply sigh and hope for an insurrection. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics understands that such drivel is not an energy "policy," it's a bad and dangerous slogan.

But Democrats must have the correct solution then, right? Would that it were...but, no, they are equally made of nothing but self-puffery. While the Democrats rightly oppose opening up irresponsible drilling in environmentally precarious places, they do not have the courage to complete the thought. No, they want the government to step in and cut prices, while punishing the bad energy giants. Like the Republicans, they are unwilling to acknowledge the laws of supply and demand. They, too, will not accept the reality that we're using too much energy and destroying our environment in the process. They huff and puff and demand that the poor, overburdened middle class be dragged out of the pit it helped create through its conspicuous consumption. Rather than calling on us all to accept the fact that oil will, indeed, run out, they want to delay the economic pain of change to a future generation. If future generations could come back to exact their revenge, today's generations would be rightfully trembling in fear.

What does all of this have to do with associations, you might wonder? Associations have the capacity to bring about change in this political stalemate borne of fear.

They don't have to be energy-related organizations. They don't have to focus on engineering solutions to energy generation. They don't have to have an obvious connection to the environment or politics or policy. All they need to do is to educate their members and encourage their members to, in turn, educate their politicians. If just ten percent of the members of associations in the United States would send a message to their political leaders that they demand real solutions and that they are willing to be led by real leaders who have real answers, things would change, quickly and for the better.

If associations would simply give their members some "talking points," that could go a long way. Here are a few:

  • The supply of oil is dwindling quickly and we must find, with a great sense of urgency, alternatives;
  • Conservation is required and it will require sacrifices by all of us;
  • Priorities for availability of oil-based products must be assigned so that transportation of critical products (e.g., food, medicines, and the like) can be protected;
  • As painful as high prices can be, we must make energy use a conscious and uncomfortable choice in order to protect what is now a limited supply;
  • Give entrepreneurs, including major energy companies, who seek solutions, incentives to take risks; and
  • Once people understand the true, critical nature of energy availability, they will be willing to sacrifice and, in the meantime, they must be made to sacrifice.

Associations, which helped build this country, can help save it. They have power, influence, and the unique capacity to help their members who share common traits, needs, and wants achieve important objectives.

There are associations, of course, whose own survival is at odds with what I have said here. Their own members are potential victims of new energy sources and conservation measures. You can be absolutely sure that those associations will do all they can to preserve the status quo, minimize the impression that an urgent need for alternative sources exists, and derail any efforts to redirect their own economic engines. To my way of thinking, a company or an association that would put its own short-term profits or even its own survival above the survival of our economy and our way of life is an organization that deserves neither our help nor our sympathy.

Finally, I hope this diversion into political and economic and social minefields will be appreciated or, at least, forgiven. For my next post, I will return to a strictly "association management" topic.

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